Monthly Archives: May 2011

Exhibition//Stasus for the Royal Academy Summer

Stasus is for the last months one of my favorite new “emerging” super cool offices to be watched.

Pay a visit to their website (+) or get down to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition to see some of their work.

“…We’re delighted to be a part of the exhibition this year, with our models ‘Object III – Warsaw Institute of Experimental Film: Editing Facility’ and ‘Object IX – Warsaw Institute of Experimental Film: Festival Hotel’ in the architecture room. We worked on these models intensively over the previous months, requiring some coordination as the models were largely assembled and worked on in Edinburgh before being transported to London. The journey to London in a hire-van was memorable, as was adding finishing touches to the models in a discreet location in Bermondsey surrounded by the Alpha Romeos and Porsches of city boys. We owe a huge a debt to Keith Milne for his help with the tranportation and models – the beautiful matte finish on the model cases being a labour of love for him (and at times a source of endless frustration).”

The exhibition runs from June 7 – August 15. The architecture entries are reportedly extremely high quality this year so all the more reason to go along.//enjoy some “behind the scenes” photos from their blog.

Discussion//Atomic Gardens

One of the most interesting articles I have read in a blog lately, enjoy a post from Pruned blog

Paige Johnson works as a nanotechnology researcher at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma. When not inventing new ways to fabricate nanobatteries and other advanced materials, she moonlights as an independent scholar of garden history. She has published articles on the“outlandish” garden hydroengineering of Isaac de Caus and the technological motifs of Art Deco landscapes, among other topics. Additionally, she maintains two landscape-themed blogs, Garden History Girl (+) and Playscapes (+), both of which have given us some great materialto blog here in the past.
Her current landscape research is focused on the strange and fascinating story of atomic gardening, a post-war phenomenon in which plants were irradiated in the hopes of producing beneficial mutations. Considering recent nuclear events in Japan and the ever ongoing concern for food security, it’s a topic that’s sure to resonate.

Pruned (+)/a blog always on the radar// managed to get an interview, so enjoy a discussion on atomic gardens…


Pruned: So basically what are atomic gardens?

Paige Johnson: After WWII, there was a concerted effort to find ‘peaceful’ uses for atomic energy. One of the ideas was to bombard plants with radiation and produce lots of mutations, some of which, it was hoped, would lead to plants that bore more heavily or were disease or cold-resistant or just had unusual colors. The experiments were mostly conducted in giant gamma gardens on the grounds of national laboratories in the US but also in Europe and countries of the former USSR.

These efforts utimately reached far into the world outside the laboratory grounds in several ways: in plant varieties based on mutated stocks that were—and still are—grown commercially, in irradiated seeds that were sold to the public by atomic entrepreneur C.J. Speas during the 50s and 60s and through the Atomic Gardening Society, started in England by Muriel Howorth to promote the mutated varieties.

It’s easy to look back at it all as some crazy, or conspiratorial, plot. But the atomic gardens weren’t a secret. They’ve just been forgotten. And it’s clear from reading the primary sources that most people involved were deeply sincere. They really thought their efforts would eradicate hunger, end famine, prevent another war.

Pruned: What made you interested in unearthing the story of these gardens, which, judging from their lack of a Wikipedia article, are indeed largely forgotten? What is the compelling angle?

Johnson: I was asked to speak at a conference about landscapes of the 1950s. I had previously done work about the appearance of technological motifs in the Art Deco landscapes of the 1920s and 1930s and anticipated doing something similar for the 1950s lecture. So I started by searching for atomic references in mid-century landscape forms, but soon came across this much deeper atomic element. I was immediately fascinated, and frankly really surprised that the history had never been examined. If we think of modern GM as taking a scalpel to the genome, mutation breeding by irradiation was a hammer. Amidst all the debate over altered crops, surely evaluating the legacy of the atomic gardens could be useful.

I’m in no way starting from the premise that all modern ills are somehow a result of these mid-century experiments. Maybe they didn’t have any lasting effects at all; I don’t know yet, and the goal of the research is to find that out! But I do know that this information should be readily available so that the public can access it and make up their own minds, and so that future researchers, beyond me, can engage with the primary source materials.

I think one way that science has failed the public is by not making its results accessible, often with the implicit—even explicit—excuse that non-scientists somehow aren’t smart enough to understand them, which is self-serving tosh. It’s interesting that public engagement was desired, and sought out, during the Atoms for Peace program of which the atomic gardens were a part. It was a time when the atomic scientists who had been sequestered during the war began to speak strongly into the public sphere about their science and its implications, to enter the cultural discussion in the way that these atomic experiments—which are still ongoing—should now.

Plus, the atomic gardens are an amazing human story—with Muriel carrying around atomic potatoes in her hand bag and C.J. irradiating seeds for science students—who wouldn’t want to hear about that? Muriel and C.J. were exemplars of a nuclear enthusiasm that hasn’t been nearly so examined historically as has nuclear protest. It’s fun to look back and laugh, to shake our head with hindsight, but the less comfortable part of it is to examine our own enthusiasms, to ask what their unanticipated consequences might be.

I’m a bit of a contrarian thinker. So I tend to not worry so much about issues that are being debated—like, say, oil, or even GM crops—as about the debates we aren’t having. I was startled that the strongest contemporary similarity to the language surrounding the atomic gardens is the grandiose predictions that are often attached to the latest ‘green’ technologies. Going into a future that is more influenced by science and technology every day, we have to be absolutely steely-eyed in our evaluation of what someone says will change the world for the better. Even if we want it to.

Pruned: Muriel Howorth is a major character in this story. Can you elaborate her role in this post-war phenomenon?

Johnson: Muriel is one of my favorite parts of the story and my upcoming article for theBritish Journal for the History of Science is all about her nuclear enthusiasm. I was able to locate her remaining family, they’re lovely, and they still have a trunk of her things which they made available for my research, and her own personal geiger counter!

The atomic peanut dinner party sparked Muriel’s involvement with atomic gardening, but it was in some ways a culmination of ten years of work during which she had acted as a tireless booster for all things nuclear: forming two societies to promote atomic science to the layman, publishing books and a journal with the same aim, writing the biography of a Nobel prize-winner, and even staging a “Radioactivity Jubilee” and an isotopic pantomime in which she and a dozen ‘Atomic Energy Associates’ danced out atomic forces.

Muriel was also the only person at the time speaking specifically to women about the new science, and encouraging them to take an active role; she had a Ladies Atomic Energy Club whose aim was expressly to bring women out of the kitchen and into the atomic age.

By her own account, Muriel originally hadn’t thought beyond serving the NC4X peanuts to her guests at the dinner party. It was only afterwards, seemingly disappointed with their reaction, and wondering what to do with the leftovers, that she thought of popping some in the soil to see how they grew.

The Atomic Gardening Society was really the final chapter in what was an unusual career of atomic and self promotion. Muriel is interesting just for herself, of course, but also as an example of atomic optimism which has gone largely unexamined by historians.

It’s common, now, to hear about the ‘others’ of history. Muriel was a woman, and a non-scientist, but her greater otherness was that she was an incredibly enthusiastic player for the losing team—the side of the nuclear discussion that was eventually discredited. We never talk about the losing team. But as a historian I’m interested in what we can learn from these kind of ‘others’.

Pruned: You have an aerial picture of one of those giant gamma gardens. First of all, what accounts for its circular layout? Can you describe some of the quarantine protocols the researchers used? At first I thought it’s surrounded by hedgerows and beyond are farmlands. But I guess it’s surrounded by woodlands.

Johnson: The circular spatial form of the gamma gardens, which in aerial view uncannily resembles the radiation danger symbol,  was simply based upon the need to arrange the plants in concentric circles around the radiation source which stood like a totem in the center of the field.  It was basically a slug of radioactive material within a pole; when workers needed to enter the field it was lowered below ground into a lead lined chamber. There were a series of fences and alarms to keep people from entering the field when the source was above ground.

The amount of radiation received by the plants naturally varied according to how close they were to the pole. So usually a single variety would be arranged as a ‘wedge’ leading away from the pole, so that the effects of a range of radiation levels could be evaluated. Most of the plants close to the pole simply died. A little further away, they would be so genetically altered that they were riddled with tumors and other growth abnormalities. It was generally the rows where the plants ‘looked’ normal, but still had genetic alterations, that were of the most interest, that were ‘just right’ as far as mutation breeding was concerned!

So far, I haven’t been able to find much more about the wider landscape settings of the gamma gardens; they are still within the grounds of national laboratories, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Pruned: Outside of these laboratory grounds, where did the mini atomic gardens pop up? If the public wanted to start their own, would C.J. and the Atomic Gardening Society have been their only commercial source of the irradiated seeds? As a matter of fact, how would they have known about them in the first place? You mention that they weren’t exactly a secret.

Johnson: There is much less documentation of atomic gardening outside the laboratory. C.J. was the only way for the public to buy irradiated seeds. I can trace the marketing of the seeds—at garden fairs, and in the back of magazines, in grocery stores, and through high school science clubs, which sold them as fundraisers. But I don’t yet know who bought them, or how many, or where.

I also don’t know how many people participated, but it was enough of a cultural moment to form the plot device for Paul Zindel’s Pulitzer prize-winning play The Effect of Gamma-Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds in 1964. The main character, the child Tillie, grows irradiated seeds as her science fair project and makes a speech about her project which ends: “Some of the mutations will be good ones—wonderful things beyond our dreams—and I believe, I believe this with all my heart, THE DAY WILL COME WHEN MANKIND WILL THANK GOD FOR THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL ENERGY FROM THE ATOM.”

Paul Zindel was a science teacher. The play is still widely performed, but most people don’t know that the irradiated marigolds were real.

Pruned: I’m curious as to how C.J. irradiated the seeds. What kind of equipment are we talking about?

Johnson: C.J. obtained a license from the Atomic Energy Commission for a Cobalt-60 source, probably similar to those still used in radiotherapy. He encased it in a small cinderblock chamber, into which he slid trays of seeds. He often showed his backyard “bunker” to tourists and school groups. That’s about all I know so far.

I had high hopes of traipsing through Tennessee to find the bunker, but the site was incorporated into flood plain as part of a river project, and near as I can tell no longer exists. No documents have turned up on what happened to the source.

Pruned: What were some of the mutations these gardens produced?

Johnson: While the scientific experiments are documented pretty well in the journal literature we actually don’t know what mutations came from the home experiments. The Atomic Gardening Society had the lofty goal of furthering scientific research. It was really an early crowd-sourcing, citizen-scientist movement. Very ahead of its time!

But obviously there are issues around properly controlling experiments in people’s backyards, and there was no avenue to ‘publish’ results. A really interesting part of this investigation is what unknown progeny might be out there.

Pruned: So really there might be an atomic heirloom tomato that’s now growing on somebody’s allotment garden. They’re thinking that it’s strangely misshapen and uniquely pigmented because it’s an heirloom, but in fact it’s a gamma-mutated variety. It’s a kind of amnesia, one that’s actually fairly common when it comes to the foods that we eat. Pick any vegetable or meat at Wal-Mart or the local farmer’s market, and more likely than not, there’s a long history there of genetic manipulation that’s largely forgotten.

Johnson: The atomic plant varieties certainly fit it with your ‘food amnesia’ premise; it would be rare for the consumer to know anything about the genetic history of the food we consume, much less if it came out of the mid-century atomic experiments. But the path from an irradiated seed, or a gamma garden, to the table can be anything but straight. Let’s look at some examples that have made it to the American table, and tummy.

Mint oil from the peppermint plant, Mentha piperita L., is ubiquitous in things like chewing gum and toothpaste. Peppermint is one of many plants susceptible to Verticillium wilt, a fungal disease that cause stunting and plant death. Hundreds of thousands of stolons were irradiated at the Brookhaven National Laboratory from about 1955 on, and planted into wilt infested fields, ultimately resulting in the release of the wilt-resistant ‘Todd’s Mitcham’ cultivar, a product of thermal neutron irradiation, in 1971. The exact nature of the genetic changes that cause it to be wilt-resistant remain unknown. Most of the global production of mint oil is now the Todd’s Mitcham’ cultivar, with an estimated market value of around $930 million USD.

Another readily available atomic mutant is the ‘Rio Star’ grapefruit, which accounts for 75% of the grapefruit production in Texas. They were bred solely to produce flesh and juice that is more red in color than previous varieties.

That’s a pretty direct route; the genetic change produced by irradiation remains in the commercially cultivated variety, as my research shows so far. So yes, it is possible that someone, planting atomic seeds in their allotment, produced a plant with a genetic mutation that was robust enough to still possess the mutated ‘feature’ today.

Pruned: Lastly, you are a nanotechnology researcher by day and moonlight as an independent scholar of garden history. What brought about this fascinating career combination? Also, I’m curious how one career might be informing the other and vice versa.

Johnson: I think I just have a hungry mind.

There is no obvious intersection between nanotech and my garden history, and it started out as something of an indulgence; a break from science to pursue formally a subject in which I had an avocational interest. I even told my garden history tutor that I didn’t want to write about scientific/garden overlaps, that I was tired of things technical and needed a break. But as soon as I read about the mystery of the rainbow fountain I was hooked.

How my garden history informs my continuing work in science is a bit more complicated; it is more influenced by my general interest in design of space, of which garden history is a part. At a very fundamental level, many nanotechnology problems are about the creation of appropriate spaces. There are load of papers published on new whiz-bang nanostructures, which one might think of as objects or sculptures. They’re pretty and all, but what we need is negative-space structures, spaces that are architectures not sculptures, spaces that can be ‘inhabited’, and comparatively few people are working on that. These are things my study of design helped me understand, which has led to a patent for a hollow nanostructure, and another application for one that inhabits the hollow space.


If you are in London on 7 June 2011, Paige Johnson will be at the Garden Museum giving atalk on atomic gardening, Muriel Howorth and the Atomic Gardening Society. Her article on in British Journal for the History of Science is forthcoming this summer.

Johnson is also planning to write a book on the subject; check back on her blog and here in the coming weeks for details.

credits/photos: Pruned blog

Drawing//Pencil worlds by Frank Magnotta

Frank Magnotta, graduate of M.F.A, University of Illinois (2003) and Skowhegan School of Painting and sculpture (2003) is really inviting us to join and admire his worlds created just by his pencil. Elements of architectural synthesis, typography and design are visible through the drawings; although is not clear if the final result represents an object, a place or just a great scrambling of different elements. Enjoy the drawings and Frank’s imagination.

The Recollector//by Jasper de Beijer

“The Recollector is a 3D collage, created in the computer. Jasper de Beijer has used video game technology to create a virtual environment which is somewhere between a museum, a theatre and a photo archive. The visitor can freely walk around in it like in a physical space.
With the Recollector de Beijer reconstructs colonial history with elements of the archives and brings it to life in a new environment.  As an archaeologist, de Beijer digs deeper into material from the archives of Spaarnestad Photo and exposes several layers of our collective memory. As a collector, he creates a shadow archive which is categorised associatively. As a movie director he leads visitors through the show, after manipulating his version of reality. De Beijer shows a clear, enclosed space where the visitor wanders around without a sense of the space itself. 
Jasper de Beijer is an artist, born in 1973 and living in Amsterdam, Holland. His main discipline is constructed photography, building all elements in the picture from the ground up.
The main focus in De Beijer’s work lies in the fascination of the source material he finds. Mostly he finds this in historical material; in the periphery of events, where confrontations between worlds or cultures create a new reality.
Following this fascination the need rises to recreate the situation from the found material; so the artist can make his own testimonial which he can manipulate as he sees fit. De Beijer uses any means necessary to reconstruct: mostly building scale models, which are combined with materials made in his studio (costumes, props, studio settings) and computer generated images. He assembles these elements digitally to new images, creating his own unique imagery.”

if you liked the images do not miss the video.
/the collectors’ website (+)

Photography//Flying and Floating

“Robert Overweg is a photographer// in the virtual world he sees the worlds of (first and third person shooter) games as the new public space of contemporary society and as a direct extension of the physical world.
…. either by foot or by air through the outskirts of the virtual world which he dissects through his photography. He makes use of the new possibilities which the virtual world gives him for his photography but he also documents the limitations of the virtual world
He exhibits throughout the world ranging from Amsterdam, Cologne and L.A. The press gave his work a fair share of attention from the dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, BBC to Gizmodo and Kotaku.”

Continuing to photograph in the virtual world I am trying to find new ways to photograph in and through the virtual world.
Trying to achieve the image where a photograph becomes more than the game. No editing or collage involved.


                        The sky in between 2011, Robert Overweg, Mafia 2

                                           Hotel 2011, Robert Overweg, Mafia 2

                                    Apartment two 2011, Robert Overweg, Mafia 2

                                Stairway to the sky 2011, Robert Overweg, Mafia 2 

The Garage 2011, Robert Overweg, Mafia 2


Design//some of the best Office spaces

How boring can a day at work be? maybe take a look at the pictures below before answering the question.
Without a doubt here are some of the most well designed and friendly offices around the world. Enjoy and have that in mind for your next internship application

/credits: Fash&Mark (+)


The Selgas Cano Architecture office






Drugs//Smuggling Inventions+Techniques

Nobody knows exactly, I believe, an exact percentage of the drugs discovered passing through airports but it is nice to hear that Customs officers at least still know how to do their job.

1)Agents at JFK Airport in the past month have not only seized nearly $800,000 bucks in counterfeit cash but they also discovered and destoryed a shipment of cocaine-laced teabags from Peru.

The most recent funny money was found in the form of hundreds of fake hundreds lining the luggage of a man named Jonathan Reyes, who was promptly arrested. Even better, he was caught less than a month after officials busted another alleged counterfeiter, a man named Marco Chavez, who was found carrying roughly $600,000 in phony dough loose in his luggage.

Meanwhile, the coke-laced teabags were discovered during a routine check of “Green Tea Samples” being shipped to the country from Peru. Apparently the tea was more white than green. Looking closer officers found about two pounds of coca leaf products in the form of tea bags and energy bars inside the shipment, according to authorities. The findings were confirmed by lab tests and the shipment was, according to Homeland Security, destroyed.

 2)People hide drugs in incredibly creative places. Airbags, cat statues, hangers,submarines. So we’re a little surprised (but also amused) that it has taken drug smugglers until now to try children’s coloring books? Well, until now to get caught doing it, we should say. Three inmates at the Cape May County Correctional Center and two woman outside the prison were busted this week by New Jersey cops for slipping the perscrption drug Suboxone into the jail. And even the cops are impressed by their scheme.

“In my 38 years of law enforcement, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer said yesterday.

Basically the women on the outside were turning the drug, normally used to treat opium addiction, into a paste and smearing it onto coloring book pages before sending them into the big house. They even wrote “To Daddy” on one sheet to keep investigators on their toes. We’re assuming that inmates could simply eat the paper to get their high on. And the drug ring would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for a pesky prison snitch who alerted a corrections officer to the scam. Once they’d been tipped off prison officials spent two months of sifting through inmate mail before they spotted the drug-laced pages and broke the ring up.

3)Police arrested seven members of the Latin Kings gang accused of stashing heroin and cocaine in the airbag compartments of their cars while they smuggled the drugs into Brooklyn. Before driving across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the suspects purportedly hid the narcotics in “hydraulic trapdoors that were rigged to open when the driver pushed a series of buttons on the dashboard panel in a set order,” the Staten Island Advance reports. After an 18-month investigation — which involved undercover drug drug purchases and electronic and visual surveillance — prosecutors alleged that 27-year-old ringleader Jose Arroyave repeatedly sold glassine bags of heroin and $4,000 of cocaine to an informant. An additional suspect has reportedly fled to Puerto Rico.

4)Mee-ow! Last month Customs officials got a suspicious a package of “plastic samples” sent from Thailand to an address in New York. Though the package, which included 30 porcelain feline figurines, got through initial scans ok, something wasn’t quite right. Another round of X-rays revealed plastic-wrapped packages inside the kitties and a little broken porcelain later and authorities had themselves 205 pounds of raw opium.

No arrests have been made yet in regards to the find, estimated to be worth about $9 million.

What we find interesting is that somebody out there is still moving raw opium. We were under the impression that at this point it is easier (and more profitable) to refine the drug down to heroin before you hide it inside random objects (oh, Lost). An impression validated by a Customs spokesman, who says that “opium was kind of unusual to find, especially in that quantity.”

Also interesting? Apparently the brown tar-like substance that is raw opium isn’t necessarily completely identifiable on the spot. When the pussies were popped open field tests on the substance inside “were inconclusive, but a lab analysis identified the contraband opium,” according to Robert Perez, director of CBP’s field operations in New York.

5)Drug Enforcement Administration officials have seized a 100-foot stealth submarine in Ecuador, and though it was carrying 10-12 tons of cocaine, they’re really impressed! Jay Bergman, Andean regional director for the DEA, told the AP, “It is the first fully functional, completely submersible submarine for transoceanic voyages that we have ever found…”this is in a new maritime drug-trafficking class of its own.” It even had air conditioning!

Officials found the sub on Friday, docked at a shipyard with living quarters for at least 50 people, several miles from the Colombian border. The camouflage-painted, fully submersible vessel was set to make its first voyage on Friday. In the next few days, engineers will be taking it apart to investigate. Bergman said, “A lot of thought, a lot of resources, went into this.”

In other cocaine-smuggling news: even drug dealers are getting into the World Cup spirit! Airport officials in Colombia seized a 14-inch replica of the World Cup trophy made of 24 pounds of cocaine. It was painted green and gold and set to be shipped to Madrid, presumably in time for everyone to party at semi-finals game.

from the gothamist (+)